After traveling to a base camp on the slopes of Mount Everest, Lona Alia had an epiphany about the fundamentals of the fashion industry.
“I traveled with only one piece of luggage, which was very small, for four months,” Alia said. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if I was able to rent something in these places I went to because I was going from one climate to the next and one continent to the next.”
A former model, Alia has spent a career immersed in the industry she’s now changing. She is now the founder of Style Lend, a peer-to-peer online marketplace for women to rent high-end clothing, which she discussed on the 30th episode of the Loose Threads Podcast.
Alia said she saw the roots of her idea in other successful technology companies, but none that engaged with the industry she knew so well.
“Seeing how Airbnb was utilizing idle space or Uber was utilizing idle cars, I thought, we have these items in our closets and there are $50 billion of them in the U.S. or more,” Alia said. “Why not rent them out to other women and make another woman’s day special?”
Helping fashion break into the sharing economy was a big challenge, as Alia found that the industry isn’t always willing to evolve and innovate. She decided to start with women’s clothing, the largest market with a high purchase frequency and lots of turnover.
To compete with already established clothing-rental services like Rent the Runway, Alia sought to take advantage of her insight into where these high-end clothes could be found.
“The difference between us and them is that they buy their inventory, whereas we’re saying this inventory exists [in people’s closets], let’s use it, rent it out and make it even more sustainable,” Alia said.
Style Lend operates with a more decentralized model than many of their competitors, but still facilitates consumer interactions by requiring any clothing rented through the service to meet a minimum retail price ($200) and be no more than two years old.
Alia said the fashion industry isn’t concerned with how often you wear something, only that you buy it to begin with. That’s where Style Lend comes in.
“Right now, people have this problem and they want to be able to solve it,” she said. “They want to be able to access new items and make money with their items.”
But Alia also said she believes that Style Lend can improve sustainability in the fashion world by giving consumers an opportunity to avoid the temptation of fast fashion.
Instead of buying cheap fast fashion, which can promote horrible working conditions for manufacturers and utilize environmentally harmful materials, Style Lend provides a space where consumers can find quality clothing at an affordable price.
“When you rent something, you can rent 10 different pieces for the price of buying one item,” Alia said. “People don’t think about the cost per wear, because realistically a lot these items end up with a tag in the closet. Women don’t use about 80% of the items in their closet.”